Don't believe the hype: Fedor Emelianenko is not back

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
The stage is set for another Fedor Emelianenko run. (Photo courtesy of Bellator)

Nearly two days after Fedor Emelianenko needed only 48 seconds to send Frank Mir home from the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix with some serious questions to ponder about his future, the internet is abuzz with ‘Fedor is back’ stories.

We fall for it every time.

It’s the nature of mixed martial arts. The sport is so unpredictable, and so prone to violent, unexpected endings, that our logical brains can’t process all the facts we have at our disposal when a finish like this occurs.

Did Emelianenko, unquestionably one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, finish Mir on Saturday because he is back and ready to repeat past glories, or because:

A) Mir himself is at or near the end of the line?
B) Mir hadn’t fought in more than two years?
C) Mir fought as if he were a lifelong striker when, in fact, he’s one of the greatest grapplers among big men, along with Josh Barnett and Fabricio Werdum, in the sport’s history?
D) These kinds of swift and unexpected violent finishes are what makes MMA so compelling?

It could be all of the above, or none of the above, and honestly, not much of it matters.

Don’t kid yourself. Emelianenko is not back, at least not back in the sense that he’s going to go on some long undefeated run and remind everyone why he’s so beloved by long-time MMA watchers.

He’s 41 and it shows. He’s not going to be competitive with the best in the game these days, which is why he’s fighting the likes of Mir.

In the fight game, it’s not just if you win, but who you defeat that really matters.

A win over Frank Mir was a huge deal in 2005, and maybe in 2010, but not so much in 2018 when Mir himself is weeks away from his 39th birthday and three years removed from his last win.

In some ways, we never got to see the best of Mir. He won the UFC heavyweight championship at 25 when he broke Tim Sylvia’s forearm with an arm bar, but he suffered career-threatening injuries in a motorcycle accident not long after.

He has never really been the same, and struggled for several years to regain his form. To Mir’s everlasting credit, he didn’t give up and got back to the top, and had three reigns as UFC heavyweight champion.

Those injuries he suffered in the motorcycle accident took something from him that he never regained. Never again was he the quick, explosive athlete that he was prior to it.

A fight between that Mir and the prime version of Emelianenko would have been a sight to see. It would, unquestionably, have been epic.

What we saw on Saturday, though, was not that. It was two men, both diminished by time and the numerous battles, hanging on by their fingernails hoping for one last shot at glory.

They are like a pitcher who once could blow 98 mph fastballs past hitters now trying to use collective experiences to trick batters.

Mir’s decision to rush Emelianenko and try to slug with him is baffling. As Emelianenko showed in his first-round knockout defeat at the hands of Matt Mitrione at Bellator NYC on June 24, 2017, he still has pop in his hands.

That fight was the rare double knockdown. Mitrione blasted Emelianenko at the same time that Emelianenko blasted Mitrione. Both hit the canvas.

Mitrione recovered quicker and got the TKO finish, but it was clear that whatever else Emelianenko had lost to time, he hadn’t lost his power.

And yet, Mir waded into the legend’s power as if he thought he could survive a firefight with a guy who thrived on winning firefights.

It made little sense given Mir’s grappling expertise.

Fedor Emelianenko is two victories away from the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix title. (Photo courtesy of Bellator)

Emelianenko could win this thing, and fool us twice more, but that still wouldn’t mean he’s back.

Chael Sonnen is a middleweight and was a middleweight for most of his career. Would you give Sonnen a shot to defeat UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic if they were to meet next? It wouldn’t be pretty, and the one thing that is certain is that if that fight ever did occur, Sonnen would be left in a bloody heap.

The same is true if Sonnen fought UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, who is challenging for the heavyweight belt, or even Francis Ngannou, who was recently dismantled by Miocic.

Sonnen’s best days are past him, as well.

If Emelianenko reaches the finals, he’ll see either a rematch with Mitrione or the winner of the Ryan Bader-Muhammad Lawal fight.

Both Bader and Lawal are light heavyweights, but both are in their primes and have the type of games that could cause problems for the superstar Russian.

If he wins the Grand Prix, it would be a hell of a story, but what would it really mean?

His legend is secure. Nothing that happens from this point forward will change it.

Fedor Emelianenko is one of a handful of fighters who deserves to be in the discussion as the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time.

He no longer is that fighter, though, and nothing he does in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix can change that fact.

This, though, is what MMA can do.

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